It's “all in the family” at Tom Holzer Ford, a repeat Ward's Dealer Business Top 500 dealer in one of the most top-heavy Ford-dealered markets — metro Detroit.

One would expect to find “mom, pop and the kids” dealerships in far smaller regions than the Motor City and its environs.

Holzer Ford, northwest of Detroit, serves the cities of Farmington Hills, Farmington and Novi in one of the state's fastest-growing suburban areas.

A “family store” in such a dynamic territory is uncommon. The Holzer clan does it well. Last year they raised their new-vehicle sales to about 3,000 units from 2,875 in 1999.

“That's pretty good considering all the competition around southeastern Michigan,” says Thomas “Buzzy” Holzer, Jr., the dealership's new principal and son of founder Thomas Holzer, Sr.

“Over the 30 years my dad ran the store, until he turned it over to me a year ago, we established a reputation as a place whose family involvement means A-1 customer service. That's like being a small-town business whose customers keep coming back because they saw my mother, Connie, doing ads on TV, or heard my dad or brother Terry on radio commercials.

“There's a Holzer attachment, with both my sisters, Heidi and Tracy, working here, too. That's not found at most metro-market dealers.”

Bearing out the “Holzer attachment” is that in a market loaded with Ford employees, who have 41 Ford dealerships to choose from, Buzzy Holzer boasts of a “50% visiting owner” record in service.

That means half of the dealership's average 1,800 service repair orders a month come from territories served by other Ford dealers.

Says Mr. Holzer, “We're so strapped for space here with 18 service stalls and eight body shop stalls that we're breaking ground for an adjacent building that will double the size of each. That will give us more parking, too, which we sorely need.

“We like to stock about 400 new vehicles here to accommodate customer needs without having them wait for deliveries. That takes a lot of room out of parking. My dad, now 71, is retired down in Naples, FL, and he likes to fiddle with the architect's renderings. In four months or so, weather permitting, and we should be well on the way to completion of the whole project.”

Buzzy Holzer learned the values of taking care of customers as a senior chef in the restaurant business for eight years.

Now 42, he turned down a promotion in the Chuck Muer restaurant chain to take the post of director of operations at his dad's dealership, and enhanced his on-the-job experience at Holzer Ford last year by completing the dealer principal course at the NADA Academy in McLean, VA.

He says, “That course was simply great. It was practical and tuned in and allowed me to rotate work time back here in Farmington Hills with one-weekers at school.

“I bonded with a lot of students from other dealerships around the country with similar problems, which is very helpful when you're doing $90 million in business a year and have 89 employees to satisfy in a very competitive Ford market.”

Still running on Detroit TV and radio stations are the commercials of Mrs. Holzer, who speaks of “the family way” in pitching Holzer Ford's sales and service values.

“Ask mom to do a commercial,’ says Buzzy, “and she still is eager to fly up here from Florida to do it. She's become so recognized that folks coming by ask for her.

“There are old-time dealers around here who have also done their own spots, like Don Massey and Woodrow Woody, but Connie Holzer is the only wife who's been so active doing them over the years — and it's a big plus for the store.”

Buzzy Holzer has signed up for a $10,000 investment in the new sales web site and plans to apply for a Blue Oval certificate, although he wonders whether qualification standards will be raised “higher and higher.”

He says, “We've come a long way since 1974 when my dad started buying out Flannery Ford in downtown Farmington on Grand River Avenue, where he was sales manager.

“Tom and Connie had come up from Toledo, OH, and he had this dream of becoming a car dealer. Their total business was like $3.5 million a year in the 1970s and early 1980s until we moved out here to the growing west end of town.

“Ford's product successes helped a lot, but the Holzer family reputation was a key part of where we are today.”

Name: Tom Holzer Ford

Location: Farmington Hills, MI

Owner: Thomas “Buzzy” Holzer, Jr.

WDB Top 500: 370th, 1999; Revenues, $82.9 million; new-unit sales, 2,875; used-unit sales, 1,092; F&I, $189,804; service, $2.3 million; body shop, $988,903; parts, $2.9 million.

Philosophy: “As a family business, treat employees and customers as family.”